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Climate Change and Terrorism: High-level Open Debate

Tomorrow (9 December), the Security Council will hold a high-level open debate on “security in the context of terrorism and climate change” under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. The meeting, which is the signature event of Niger’s Council presidency, will be chaired by Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum. The expected briefers are UN Secretary-General António Guterres, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Executive Secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Head of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) Mamman Nuhu.

Non-Council member states are invited to participate in person at tomorrow’s open debate or submit a written statement to be included in the meeting’s official record.

Terrorism and climate change have been priority issues for Niger during its two-year Council membership, which will conclude at the end of December. The concept note prepared by Niger ahead of the meeting says that the threats to peace and security caused by climate change and terrorism “do not spare any parts of the world”. It highlights the impact that groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaeda have had in the Middle East and Africa, adding that “small island states and arid countries” have witnessed the most visible effects of climate change. These threats, the concept note maintains, weaken the sovereignty of African states and increase the “precariousness of peace in various parts of the [African] continent and call for more relevant initiatives to address these issues”.

The concept note focusses primarily on the effects of climate change in the Sahel, where it has had a “strong impact” on agricultural production and exacerbated food and nutritional insecurity. Coupled with the region’s high population growth, which is expected to quadruple from 85 million inhabitants in 2015 to 330 million by 2050, climate change will continue to create challenges for issues such as water and agricultural management and can lead to “inter-communal tensions between farmers and herders, or between communities in different geographical areas”.

These trends in the Sahel were also discussed during the Council’s virtual ministerial-level open debate on “climate and security” in July 2020. At that meeting, Colonel Mahamadou Seidou Magagi, Director of the Centre National d’Études Stratégiques et de Sécurité in Niger (CNESS-Niger), called climate change a driver of conflict and a threat multiplier in the Sahel. He added that climate change has destroyed livelihoods, which are put at risk as “water tables dry up, crop yields diminish, and the desert slowly overtakes once fertile lands”. He argued that these conditions exacerbate tensions, forcing people to flee their homes and even join extremist groups.

The aim of tomorrow’s meeting is to further engage the international community in the fight against terrorism and climate change and to encourage it to “develop more effective strategies at the regional and global levels” to address these issues. The concept note proposes several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s open debate:

Council members and non-Council member states speaking at tomorrow’s open debate are likely to draw attention to the connections between climate change and terrorism. Some may echo statements made at the Council’s 23 September high-level open debate on the “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security”. At that meeting, which was held during the UN General Assembly’s high-level week and was attended by many heads of state or government, most member states focussed on the nexus between climate change and conflict and addressed issues such as the effects on security of resource scarcity and displacement.

While all current Council members recognise that climate change poses an existential threat to human civilisation, divisions remain over the Council’s role in addressing climate and security issues. Several participants at tomorrow’s meeting—such as China, India and Russia—may express the view that climate change is a sustainable development issue that is more appropriately addressed by other parts of the UN system, including the General Assembly and ECOSOC. Some may raise the issue of the “securitisation” of climate change. India, in particular, has raised this concern in the past, including during the 23 September open debate. At a high-level open debate on “addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security”, which was held on 25 January 2019, India stated that “thinking in security terms usually engenders overly militarised solutions to problems that inherently require non-military responses to resolve them”, adding that this “brings the wrong actors to the table”.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes in the context of increased Council discussions in recent months on the adverse security implications of climate change. In addition to the 23 September high-level open debate, Viet Nam, Ireland, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tunisia organised an 18 October Arria-formula meeting on “Sea-Level Rise and Implications for International Peace and Security”, which underscored climate change as a risk multiplier which worsens global security and development challenges.

In the past two months, Council members have engaged in negotiations and discussions on a draft thematic resolution on climate change and security. The draft text, which was proposed by Ireland and Niger— the co-penholders on the climate and security file— was put in blue on 6 December. Among other things, the draft resolution recognises that the “adverse effects of climate change could impede or reverse the peacebuilding and development gains of the countries most affected by climate change…and act as a risk multiplier in these contexts”. It also calls on the Secretary-General to submit to the Council within two years a report “on the security implications of the adverse effects of climate change in relevant country or region-specific contexts on the Council’s agenda”. Niger and Ireland have apparently opened the draft for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership. As such, some members may express their support for the resolution at tomorrow’s meeting. Although a vote on the draft resolution is not currently scheduled, it seems likely that it will occur early in the week of 13 December.

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